As Niagara County celebrates its Bicentennial in 2008, it’s fitting to take a look at some of the earliest efforts to preserve Niagara County’s past. That distinction probably lies at the doorstep of the original Niagara County Pioneer Association, organized in 1877.
Historians credit the formation of the Pioneer Association to the early Dutch pioneer, Andrew Ten Brook, who could remember most of the earliest days of the settlement of the wilderness that became Niagara County. Mr. Ten Brook proposed the formation of a historical society in the county and called for the first meeting. Unfortunately, only six citizens attended. Undaunted by the small number, Ten Brook proposed a picnic meeting be held on land he owned at Olcott. The first picnic, with 1,700 in attendance, set the tone for over a quarter century of picnics to follow. Andrew Ten Brook planned and supervised each of the picnics, with tireless energy and enthusiasm. Scarcely would one picnic conclude before plans for a bigger and better event were swirling in his head.
The second picnic in 1878 greeted over 5,000 guests, once again at the Ten Brook picnic grove in Olcott. By 1881 the attendance had grown to 12,000. The attendees and speakers at the picnics became a veritable “who’s-who” of 19th century life. Famous pioneers such as the Hon. Burt Van Horn, Hon. John E. Pound, or Hon. Lyman A. Spalding were often called upon to wax eloquent about our county’s earliest days.
At the picnic of August 8, 1887 it was decided to erect a permanent log cabin at the site in Olcott. “Ye Old Log Cabin” was used to safeguard the relics and antiquities that the Association was collecting. A brass band composed of Tuscarora Indians was one of the highlights of the meeting in 1888 and the finished log cabin was opened on that year.
The speaker at the meeting of August 16, 1899 was a man destined to become president of the United States, NY Governor Theodore Roosevelt. The attendance at the grove was recorded as 20,000 people. The picnic in 1900 welcomed a new century and also marked the day the trolley from Lockport to Olcott first went into general service. The confluence of the new millennium, the annual Pioneer Picnic and the trolley opening gave rise to great public celebration and the trolley carried 12,000 people during its first day of operation. The picnic attendance was listed that year as 25,000.
The Pioneer Association declined from its zenith in the early 1900s as the original founding members and their families met their appointment with mortality. Interest in the organization waned and eventually ceased in the mid-20th century. The organization officially dissolved in July of 1956 and turned over its collection of artifacts to the Niagara County Historical Society. The old log cabin at Olcott also fell into neglect and was eventually torn down in the early 1960s.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094